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Amaze and gratify your readers.

"Statistics prove," intoned the radio newscaster, "that 1991 was a banner year for arson here in the city." Weird, I mused, turning the GTI onto the Mass. Pike on-ramp. If they ever offer amnesty to Philanderers, that guy'll announce a red-letter day for adulterers

After all, a banner year is one that's outstanding in the sense of something positive -- a banner year for crops, for sales; the reader recoils from anomalies like banner year for rape or murder. Or arson,

But this kind of contradiction, cloaked in other clothes, waits patiently to mug the hasty, preoccupied word merchant. Here follow some what-I-means:

"Jones, 65, suffered a broken ankle thanks to a fall on the icy sidewalk." (Boston newspaper) Thanks to? Carry that one more slip: "Smithwick lost all his front teeth thanks to a punch in the mouth."

And here's how The Wall Street Journal presented it: "Williamsburg's paid attendance slipped by 116,794 in 1991, to 940,195, thanks they say to the recession."

A television newsperson told me a convicted murderer had been declared "eligible for the death penalty." Aaah RIGHT! Finally made the short list.

Writing in Newsweek, Joyce Carol Oates told how late heavyweight boxer Charles (Sonny) Liston had "numerous arrests to his credit."

The same snare mortified a Boston Globe social commentator: "The kids (of divorce) suffer more than previously we had given them credit for."

Though responsibility has at last caught on, I still occasionally hear that "an IRA source took credit for the bombing." Yet another spin Ph.D. reported that a team was "credited with the loss."

How do you feel about this form of recognition? -- "[Doucett] is now fighting terminal cancer. He has been a fixture at [our] sporting events for over three decades and his absence has been felt." To me, fixture goes with fight; it connotes something mechanical, apersonal, useful from time to time, but not at all memorable.

This is not what the columnist meant, of course, and it is part of the penalty one pays for not listening to the words. Try calling the man a varsity fan, a regular first-string supporter, a dependable perennial ... any jock cliche will do. But beware the too-handy word or phrase. As the tee-shirt wisdom goes, measure twice, cut once. (No doubt you sighed at that passively juiceless "his absence has been felt." Why not go on-line with what is real? -- "We miss him.")

All of the above evoke what is to me one of Elwyn Brooks White's more memorable advisories: "When you say something, make sure you have said it. Your chances of having said it are only fair."

* Toyota took a page ad in The Wall Street Journal to remind upscale readers that its Toyota USA Foundation supported the community rebuilding program called Christmas in April. In thanking the crew of volunteers who repaired her home, the woman beneficiary pictured in the ad said, "They even put a brand-new roof on. I could've kissed everyone of them."

The exuberance is genuine, of course, but here Toyota's copywriter failed to do it all for the client. As Words into Type cautions, "Some otherwise permanent compounds change form according to position and meaning." In the citation above, everyone must be replaced with every one, meaning each individual in the class. Words into Type displays these examples:

"Everyone will be there. Every one of the children will be there." Also,

"Did you see anyone? Any one of these will be satisfactory."

"Sometime in May. Some time ago."

"I'll come anyway. I'll go any way you like."

I cherish the recollection of this mishandling of every one that often runs at Christmastime, usually confusing the Dickens out of readers: "'God bless us everyone!' said Tiny Tim, the last of all."

* The Associated Press story datelined Olivehurst, Calif., led with, "A disgruntled former student draped with bullets and wearing camouflage clothing [attacked students]."

Perhaps deadline pressure prevented the reporter from looking at page 223 of the wire service's Stylebook and Libel Manual ("The Journalist's Bible"), but it is regrettable that no one else read the ordnance ordinance: "bullet The projectile fired by a rifle, pistol or machine gun. Together with metal casing, primer and propellant, it forms a cartridge."

As any bulletomane knows, the distraught ex-student was draped with cartridge belts, one of which is "a belt of leather or webbing with loops for carrying cartridges or pockets for clips of cartridges." (Random House unab.)

It is always a good idea to confirm terms with which we're not fully familiar. Readers deserve it. For professionals, it goes with the chair. My fondly remembered editor at the Worcester (Mass.) Sunday Telegram, Fred Rushton, put it in these words: "Alden, always look things up. This will amaze and gratify your readers."

I'm still trying, Fred ... honest. Alden Wood, lecturer on editorial procedures at Simmons College, Boston, Mass., writes and lectures on language usage. He is a retired insurance industry tice president of advertising and public relations.
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Title Annotation:Wood on Words; avoiding misuse of words
Author:Wood, Alden S.
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Words:830
Previous Article:From small talk to real talk.
Next Article:'Ten commandments' you don't want to break!
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